Administration and Leadership, Columns

How EMS Managers Should Approach Innovation

Issue 7 and Volume 41.

Innovation, which means introducing new ideas, processes or devices, is the fifth pillar of the Supervising EMS Officer Competencies. It may seem strange that a supervisor needs to be innovative, but when you think about it, it makes perfect sense.

Supervising EMS Officers (SEMSOs) are faced with novel situations, difficult problems and varying perspectives that are sometimes in conflict. Being innovative will help SEMSOs survive these situations with the potential to excel in their roles. The competencies within this pillar fall into five categories: creativity, enterprising, integrating perspectives, forecasting and managing change.


When talking about being a supervisor, creativity isn’t a commonly discussed characteristic. However, supervisors are often faced with situations that would benefit from creative thinking. We need to be wary of the “that’s the way we’ve always done it” mentality.

We need to use methods that include generating various possible solutions and ideas when solving simple and complicated problems. A competent SEMSO will demonstrate critical thinking skills, both when evaluating ideas and recognizing a time and course of action to implement them.

The process includes collecting information from disparate sources and synthesizing or reorganizing new solutions to ensure progress. Sometimes, when faced with complex problems that are consequences of other, deeper problems (or problems that seem intractable), creative and collaborative dialog can redefine and recreate the landscape.

This changes the environment and allows for planning and design thinking to alleviate, mitigate and overcome problems.


In order to innovate, the SEMSO needs to be able to identify problems and their root causes. If you try to solve a problem that’s a consequence of another, deeper problem, you may find that your actions make things worse. Do some research to prevent this-there’s a wealth of information, education and training available that will help you learn and practice root cause analysis.

Seeking improvement, and the willingness to develop and implement performance improvement plans, is important. These competencies are supported by skill in information gathering, independent thinking and using technology.

Integrating Perspectives

In today’s workplace, we’re working with people representative of five distinct generations: the veterans or traditionalists, the baby boomers (that’s me), and generations X, Y (the Millennials), and Z (iGen). With a little investigation, and it’s worth learning, you can find characteristics of the various generations and strategies on how to work with each.

Further, you must be able to support your own perspectives, decisions and arguments with evidence-know the rules, regulations, research and studies that support evidence-based practice and use them to inform your decision-making.

It’s very important to look beyond your own organization and explore other perspectives. Learn from others’ experiences and look outside of EMS and medicine to get the broadest, deepest understanding of what you’re doing, where you are and where you want to go.


You must be confident to be successful as a SEMSO. Confidence grows from competence. You need to know what you’re talking about, and you need to “walk the talk.”

To achieve some comfort in your role, cultivate self-awareness, spend time in reflection, and use your critical thinking skills to perform an honest self-assessment. The foundation of competence, confidence and comfort provides the basis for self-reliance and creating and articulating a vision. An important component behavior of leaders is sharing a vision and inspiring people to embrace it, allowing others to participate in making it a reality.

Throughout this process, a successful SEMSO will remain humble and keep an open mind. They’ll monitor how employees deal with change, observe how accepting they are of new practices, and help them understand why the change is necessary.

Managing Change

Change creates stress. The SEMSO must promote change and support the implementation of new practices. A successful SEMSO is willing and confident enough to challenge the status quo, particularly when it’s impeding progress.

This is risky, but taking risk is a characteristic of leaders; doing new things, trying new methods and initiating change are all risky. Once change is implemented, you must reinforce compliance, work toward commitment and continually communicate results and outcomes.


The competencies that make up the fifth pillar, innovation, require the SEMSO to think in ways that may seem uncomfortable. You’ll need to be an open-minded, knowledge – hungry, well-informed individual who seeks out new ideas, reaches beyond the confines of the “what we’ve always done,” and takes risks. You must be open, humble, honest and caring.

As supervisors, managers and leaders, we have an obligation to the people we work for and with to be the best we can be, and to help others do so too.